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How ‘Orange Room’ Destigmatizes Mental Health Issues

Orange Room has evolved into a conversative community space with a promising project to mainstream and destigmatize mental health issues  In the famous Iranian short story, ‘To whom shall I say hello’ by Simin Daneswar, the lonely protagonist Kowkab Soltan is advised by her doctor to scream out loud at trees and go for walks

Orange Room has evolved into a conversative community space with a promising project to mainstream and destigmatize mental health issues

 In the famous Iranian short story, ‘To whom shall I say hello’ by Simin Daneswar, the lonely protagonist Kowkab Soltan is advised by her doctor to scream out loud at trees and go for walks to relieve herself of anxiety and depression. Well, it was in the 1900s and chances are the advice came from the author herself and no doctor.

A century later, the listening trees that Daneswar wished for have probably come true. A cozy little room with its bright orange walls with a listener who lets you sprawl on lazy cushions and sip a cup of coffee while letting you pick up the pieces of your life.

Sherin Noordheen opened this place in July 2019 in Thiruvananthapuram and as she says ‘slowly but steadily’ it has evolved into a conversative community space with a promising project to mainstream and destigmatize mental health issues.

“Orange Room is a tiny comfy space where people can come, sip coffee and talk. This is an experimental project by Let’s Live, an NGO. The main focus is suicide prevention and mental health awareness,” Sherin says.

“We kicked off in July and we work through unhurried, relaxed conversations stretching over hours, with my part being the listener. Having a listener, I know, could have saved many unfortunate choices made by those battling mental health issues. While I survived my depression through support and self help through yoga, mindfulness and even hectic workouts, I know not many of us get such opportunities, so I thought my experience may come handy for many others.”

After quitting her technology career Sherin took up a leadership programme at Kanthari International Institute for Social Change. The core idea behind Orange Room was mooted there. She launched ‘Monsoon Cafe’ on the campus as her first experiment in taking the gastronomical route to create awareness on mental health issues.

“The menu featured drinks and snacks mapped on to the mental health prism. So when we get a chance to explain why something is called a Bipolar Shake, our mission takes form,” she says.

For Sherin, Orange Room is a miniature version of her ultimate target – HalfWay Cafe. “My focus is on young adults aged below 29. That’s the window when informed decisions can make a great difference. HalfWay Cafe, which we see happening in a span of around two-three years from now, will be a space where youngsters can come, hang out and discuss troubling mental health issues,” she says.

It will be a space where conversations will destigmatize mental health and active listening and positive psychology will be forged. “This is the first phase of Orange Room and we will wind up activities for a while to take stock of how good we have been so far. Our future projects need investments and we will have our prototype ready with this six month experiment. It could evolve, we may launch back with a chapter in Kochi with a bigger, better or an entirely different model after the evaluation. With time I hope my positivity champions, Aish and Arjun here will be able to take over and thereafter I want to shift my focus to advocacy, policy level interactions and awareness,” Sherin adds. Orange Room organises public sessions on mental illnesses and addictions on weekends. “Sometimes people come here just to identify if they are normal or if they should get help. Ultimately the individual and the community need to work together,” she signs off.

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